cryptmaster review

Cryptmaster Review – Words Are Weapons

This is my type of game.

It’s been said that sticks and stones may break your bones but words could never, ever hurt you. 

It’s a slightly hopeful, naive anti-bullying slogan we all grew up with and a complete and utter lie if you’re playing Cryptmaster, a hilariously dark dungeon-crawling “edutainment” adjacent video game where words, not guns or swords, most definitely are weapons. 

Upon booting Cryptmaster up, memories of my youth flooded back to me. Growing up I adored both educational games like Word Rescue and mature-beyond-my-years board games like Nightmare—now Atmosfear for a younger audience. Much of this game feels like a beautiful collision of those two ideas in that you use a lexicon of discovered words to wage war against underworld fiends while a sardonic skeleton, who adorns himself with the title of Cryptmaster, rallies a four-soldier strong band of undead to rise up and pull his soulstone free from the depths below. There are plenty of typing attack games, so the concept is far from novel, though it’s its place within this creepy, monochromatic Abaddon of sorts with its conversational dungeon-master that left a lasting impression.

cryptmaster review

Although the gameplay of Cryptmaster is exceedingly simple in that you explore a grid, step-by-step like a classic game of this ilk, and effectively type enemies to death. With that said, it isn’t like other typing attack titles where predetermined words pop up on screen to put your one hundred-plus words a minute typing ass to the test, you instead pull from an ever-expanding pool of words that each of the four warriors will rediscover. The words can be offensive, defensive or purely there as support, though it’s the challenge of remembering a chain of them as a sand dwindles through an on-screen hourglass only to usher in the enemy’s attack. The manner in which you “remember” words is rather elegant and ties neatly into the game’s combat. At any given time, each warrior has a single word beneath their display to try and recall which adds it to their exhaustive list of attacks or memories, which serve to build out the heroes’ somewhat inessential lore.

cryptmaster review

Besting an enemy in combat rewards you with the letters of their name, which slot into the gaps of your words and make them lay-ups of a ‘no consonants left in this Wheel of Fortune’ variety. It might sound as though combat would be as easy as spamming high damage words ad nauseum until they fall over, but it cleverly safeguards against this by enforcing long and tense cooldowns after a word is sent as well as often arming the underworld’s guards with armour that’s impervious to all but a few key phrases and a shield that protects against certain letters. The tense scramble of realising half of your words are ruled out thanks to a single vowel made way to some of Cryptmaster’s more thrilling moments, which I think is quite a feat for a game about typing.

Every word does have a cost, too, and maintaining a healthy balance of souls within the soulstone is important if you’re aiming to serve as the Cryptmaster’s sword, so to speak. You gain these back by either eating bugs and beetles from the dungeon walls or solving riddles posited by the damned, represented by a stack of bones with a chattering skull on top. As a fan of lateral thinking, these were a joyful aside, as was Whatever, a fun little game you can play with just about everybody you speak with and doesn’t draw you from the main path.

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cryptmaster review

I do respect how accessible the team endeavoured to make Cryptmaster, especially for a game that seems to be so objectively geared towards keyboard and mouse. Those familiar with my PC leanings would know I’m a portable man and, in keeping with that, I did play Cryptmaster primarily on a handheld. To my surprise, an enormous amount of effort has been poured in to make a gamepad a viable choice here. Knowing that not all typists are created equal, there’s an option to toggle between real-time and turn-based combat, and the latter is a god-send for those not sitting in front of a keyboard. Dragging a cursor around definitely isn’t the ideal way to experience the game, but it’s viable and that’s everything.

From the moment the Cryptmaster’s luminous eyes peer out from the pitch black, abyssal backdrop, I got the sense this game’s artists knew they had a winner. He’s creepy, scary and undeniably rascallish in his ability to harness your cadaver to do his bidding. While so much of this game is striking and so committed to its vision, the Cryptmaster’s design is so instantly iconic that I can’t wait until I can get him on a shirt. It’s also worth noting that Lee Williams, who also wrote and jointly-designed the game, turns in a suitably dry, mocking performance and I expect he’ll get a bit of love.

cryptmaster review 1

Fortunately, the strength in art design remains consistent throughout. Some of the dungeons can look a little copy-paste, I’d go so far as to suggest the game’s decision to be unwaveringly two-note robs it of any ability to deliver truly different biomes and maps. But there’s just no denying that tone, it’s impossible to resist. 

Cryptmaster really is an exceptional example for how a simple idea can grow legs and, ultimately, morph into something more than the sum of its parts. It might not spawn a generation of typists or scribes, but for right now it takes an inherently dorky skill in typing and makes it about as attractive as it’ll ever be again. 

cryptmaster review
Conclusion
Cryptmaster is a wickedly clever spin on the edutainment games of old. It combines good old fashioned typing with an underworld full up of gallows humour and eccentrics to meet, including its titular star. Spread the word, Cryptmaster is a must play indie.
Positives
A genius spin on a time-tested concept
Tremendous looking world and characters
Great accessible for all audiences
The game of Whatever
Negatives
Lore for each hero is a little lacking
Some of the areas look a little same-same
9